Like the film of the same name, Cliff Hanger is the story of Gabe, a mountain rescue expert being forced by either robbers or terrorists (discussions of the movie tend to alternate these two descriptions of the bad guys pretty interchangeably) to rescue some briefcases of stolen money off the side of a mountain. I’ve never seen the film, so I can’t say for sure how faithful the game is to the movie. But if I had to guess, given that the film was fairly popular and still enjoys a decent reputation in many people’s minds, whereas the game is bad enough to use as a means to scare away feral cats, I’m going to go out on a limb and say “not very”. But I could be wrong.
Nice T-shirt Gabe. Enjoy your frostbite.
As the game begins, we see a brief intro in which Gabe and his partner Hal go out to rescue some stranded hikers. But it’s actually a trick! Instead of stranded hikers, they find a plane crash – a plane crash full of terrorist robbers (or robber terrorists, I guess. Terrorist robbers would presumably be people who steal from terrorists. Anyway…). They take Hal hostage and demand that Gabe go and retrieve their briefcases of stolen money which somehow fell out of the plane – maybe when they were loading up the plane, they set the cases on the roof or something, and then forgot about them like people sometimes do with their coffee when they get into their cars. I guess it doesn’t really matter, as they’re the ones holding a gun to your friend’s head, they don’t really have to explain to you how they managed to lose $100 million on the side of a mountain. Just before the first level begins, we see a scene of Gabe alone, telling himself that he has to find the money before the bad guys do, which shouldn’t be an issue since they specifically took his friend hostage so he would go get it instead of them having to. Consistency may not be this game’s focal point.
The actual game then begins with Gabe walking along a snowy mountain. Before you know it, he comes under attack by what appears to be a biker gang. The presence of a biker gang, sans motorcycles, hanging out in the more dangerous, inaccessible areas of the Rocky Mountains seems kind of unlikely, so let’s assume that these guys are some of the thieves that he’s supposed to be retrieving the money for. At first glance, it would seem counter-productive for them to try to beat up the guy who’s supposed to be getting their money, but this perhaps explains why Gabe talked about getting to the money first. It may have been reverse psychology – his way of tricking the thieves into getting the money themselves. Or it could just be that this game sucks.
Like all expert mountain climbers, Gabe has mastered the jump kick.
The terrorists, or thieves or whatever, don’t waste any time in getting their asses kicked by Gabe, and it isn’t long before he’s armed with a knife that he’s taken from one of them. As luck would have it, it just so happens that he’s an expert in knife combat. I’m not sure if that was part of the movie, or if the people making the game mixed up their Sylvester Stallone characters and decided that, like Rambo, Gabe should also be an expert in fighting with knives. Have I mentioned in this paragraph yet that this game is awful? Well, it is.
The second stage has Gabe climbing up the side of a mountain while enemies shoot him repeatedly at point-blank range. This is bad because it’s virtually impossible to avoid getting shot multiple times, and for some reason he’s lost the ability to punch his enemies, take their weapons, and use them to kill everyone else. You know, that thing he was doing on the previous stage all of ten seconds ago. On the other hand, Gabe, who had been losing half his life bar from being punched, has suddenly gained the ability of being immune to gunfire. Like I said, consistency is not something the game seems too concerned about. Being nearly bulletproof means that he can just keep climbing up the cliff, ignoring the minimal damage being sustained, and make his way to the end of the level. You can beat this stage without really even trying, which only seems fair since the developers obviously designed this stage without even trying, either.
Oh, no problem. We’ll just outrun a freaking avalanche.
But don’t get used to that, because the third stage is impossible. In it, you have to run down the side of the mountain, jumping over obstacles while trying to outrun an avalanche. It’s very much like the Speederbike level of Battletoads, which, if you remember, means that it breaks one of the most important rules of game design – never make a stage that resembles the speederbike level in Battletoads. Technically, this stage is not impossible – with enough practice and, more importantly, memorization, most people should be able to get through it. But that of course is entirely based on the dubious assumption that your brain isn’t actively preventing itself from forming memories about this game as a defense mechanism. Trust me, if something requires you to remember anything at all about the Genesis version of Cliff Hanger, then for all practical purposes, it cannot be beaten. And it is for that reason that we must end our review here.